Health Feed

Even Keel

Paint by number

I don't do drama. I lash out when I hear hyperbole used to create a sense of impending doom. I don't enjoy or have patience for groups of people with heightened emotions. All of these things make me anxious and quite certain I am in danger. I have spent too much time and money getting a handle on my anxiety to let anyone or anything (even a pandemic) make me live that way again.

I'm sharing this for a couple reasons. First, if I've been curt and dismissive to you in the last month while you tried to tell me the latest scary virus news. I'm sorry. I should have ended the conversation in a nicer way. Second, I've become quite aware of what helps me feel like myself again when the anxiety tries to sneak back in and I hope by sharing my strategies, you might be willing to share some of yours too.

  • If a social media post has a photo of Trump on it, I don't read it
  • Get outside every day - otherwise I become lethargic and prone to a gloomy outlook
  • Listen to audio books or non-news podcasts while going about the boring but necessary bits of life (cleaning, folding laundry, cooking uninspired meals)
  • Never look more than 48 hours in the future, 24 is preferable
  • Get eye level with the bunny and pet her, focusing on the way her eyes close and open with each stroke of her head
  • Body scan and metta meditation 
  • Read my daily digest email from WBUR to keep up with the news, then avoid all other sources the rest of the day
  • Seek out and spend time with the people (virtually) and media (blogs, books, live feeds, Pinterest) that feed my soul
  • Embrace chances to be silly
  • Create: write, quilt, mend, knit, garden, collage...
  • The unexpected hero of this situation has been a large paint-by-number kit that I got for Christmas a couple years ago. There is no need to think, but I'm engaged and active. Several times lately Alex has come to ask me a question and it's only then that I realize I've been painting and listening to my audio book for hours.

What is helping you stay on an even keel?

Little Bit of Normal

This too shall pass rock

Something beautiful happened this morning. When I looked out the window to get my weather forecast, I noticed that our garbage and recycling bins were empty and stacked neatly by the road; just as I would expect them to be every Friday morning. But this isn't a normal Friday. For me today marks two weeks since the last day my workplace was open, and for some the isolation/quarantine has been longer. This is life in the time of COVID 19, so the fact that my garage is not filling up with garbage is beautiful because it is mundane. It is a precious snippet of normal life, of systems working as expected.

I decided to jot a quick thank you note to the company that removes our household's waste. 

Then I thought about our mail carrier, who still smiles and gives a wave (now in a smurf-blue glove) as they deliver the mail.

And the grocery store employees who are working triple as hard while dealing with an anxious, short-tempered community of shoppers. They have fallen into a hole where every day is some ugly combination of the day before a blizzard and the day before Thanksgiving, all while knowing each customer may be carrying the virus.

I'm writing to them all so they know their commitment and hard work are seen and appreciated. I'll get addresses off the internet, pop on a stamp and drop them in the mail.

I love getting mail that isn't an ad or a bill, doesn't everyone?

Writing postcards



Success Tastes Sweet

I have a calendar, one of those cheap ones that insurance agencies send out around Thanksgiving, that I started using way back in January 2014 to help me build healthier habits.  I'm a list maker.  I love that shot of excitement that comes from crossing an item off a list, even if that feeling is all too brief.  This calendar works like a list in reverse.  Any time I do one of the habits I'm trying to build, I get to write it into that day's square. 


A year ago, the goals were to exercise, write and craft more. Not too different from a million other people's new year's resolutions.  I color coded these goals to make it easy to see patterns on the calendar: exercise is underlined in yellow, writing in green and crafting in purple.  The colors made it easy to see what I was doing a lot and what I wasn't.  They all look strong for about two, maybe two and a half weeks, then more and more blank squares appear on the scene.  It's the classic resolution fade out.

Mid February I made an effort to get back on track.  A quick look tells me I did a good job of meeting my goals on the weekends.  Midweek.  Let's not talk about midweek. The exception being shoveling, which I appear to have done quite a bit of midweek and weekend all month long.  Thank you mother nature for helping me get more exercise.

And so it goes.  By March I'd given up on the color coding.  I jotted down any time I exercised, wrote or fiddled.  Yes, I'd swapped fiddle practice for crafting.  Like writing and exercise, I enjoyed it once I got started but what is it about getting started that's so tough?  

My calendar pages May through September are seas of white, with only the word "fiddle" to break the monotony. I'm sure I was doing other things, but they weren't making it to the calendar.  Maybe I didn't want to see their (in)frequency.IMG_0227

Then the fall came in all its beauty and the night crept ever farther into the day.  I started tracking how long I sat in front of my fake-sunlight lamp; "it's medecine" my doctor had reminded me,  "take the recommended dose, no more, no less".    Exercise shifted in my mind from "good for me" to "weapon against depression", so it went back on the calendar.  I started taking pre-work walks again, since outdoor exercise as early as possible has been shown to help as well. 

I'd like to say that I knew all these things were good for me, so I did them day in and day out.  But you know that's not true.  I'd do it a while, then stop.  I'd see the white space on the calendar and start up again; "Just keep starting" is a twelve step maxim that I firmly believe in.  And then in November, I read a blog post by my friend Kristina.  She had undergone serious surgery and was making big life changes as part of her recovery process.  In the post she talked about giving herself a sticker whenever she reached a daily goal.  I smiled and thought "I don't need to go that far".  But when I saw a pack of multicolored sparkling star stickers at the store, they were in my basket in an instant. Who didn't love getting a star on their homework back in school?


How do I earn a star?  Gold - sat in front of my light 1st thing in the morning.  Green - exercise.  Orange - fed the soul (fiddle, crafting, baking, extended reading).  And blue - drank water and ate fruit with my breakfast.  This last one, the blue star is the reason for this post.  I know most people love fruit, but I see eating fruit a lot like I see shaving.  I do it because I don't like what will happen if I don't. 

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Yes, fruit can be delicious (have you ever read William Carlos Williams' poems about eating plums?),  but it is so fickle and unpleasant too.  Fruit are sticky, they have really strong smells and you never know what you're going to get when you take a bite.  One day you're rewarded with sweet, jucy pleasure.  Another day and the fruit's gone sour or worse yet, squishes with the first stages of rot.  Add in the fact that sometimes my body goes on allergen overload and gives me an allergic reaction to fruit I'm not allergic to.  Fruit and I aren't friends. 


But I've been doing it.  Pears.  Grapes.  Bananas.  When I have trouble sticking to it, I grab a beloved, reliable veggie instead.  I don't think it's a coincidence that brocolli and breakfast both start with "b". 

So what's this success I  mentioned in the title?  Have I lost 10 pounds?   Am I a fiddle master? Did I finish my holiday knitting on time?  No,  no, and no.  But yesterday when I went to the kitchen hungry for a mid morning snack - I grabbed a pear.  Just as natural as can be.  No reaching for a muffin and telling myself I ought to eat fruit instead.  No staring at the choices in the fridge and making a deal with myself that if I ate the fruit I could have something good afterward.  Nope.  I just saw the pear and grabbed it. 

I think that's the first time in 40 years that I've chosen to eat fruit as a snack. 

Now that's some sweet success.


Give It Up for Feet

Have you ever been to a podiatrist?  Each time I've been to one I've wondered what made him (yes the ones I've known have been male), decide to devote his life to feet.  Hands I would understand.  A hand is visually appealing and connotes so many positive ideas: love, compassion, help, capability.  We don't have the same associations with feet.  Baby feet are almost painfully cute, but each year we walk on them they become less and less so. 

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My yoga teacher always makes a point of having us do stick pose (sitting with our legs straight out in front of us) several times per class.  As we reach for our toes she reminds us to "gaze lovingly at your feet.  Appreciate your feet."  I've felt anything but appreciative the last few months as a tiny discomfort in one has become a pain - which brings me back to the podiatrist's office.

This particular office has the podiatrist equivalent of the dentist chair.  The lower section rises, bringing your feet high enough for the doctor to spend a day viewing them without destroying his back.  My doctor stepped out to get something and I sat there with my feet positioned quite unnaturally at eye level. 

I did a quick inventory to check that they looked presentable.  Toe nails trimmed?  Check.  Sock lint?  None.  And then I noticed it.  A tiny motion.  There.  Next to my ankle bone, just beneath my skin. 

It was my pulse of course, but somehow in all my years of living in this body, I'd never noticed it.  Had I ever seen my pulse anywhere?  I'd felt it of course, but never seen it.  That tiny flutter was proof of all the systems working together, out of sight, that make my life possible.  I was filled with awe at the marvelous nature of this body I take for granted.  As I looked at my winter-cracked and calloused feet, that flutter made them precious to me.

The doctor returned, did what he had to do and sent me on my slightly hobbling way.  That night I restarted a practice I'd let slip out of my routine.  You probably already do it.  Before I crawl under the covers, I take a moment to rub lotion into my feet, massage my toes and feel grateful for all they make possible each day.

Taking Stock - Gently

The house where I live has a cellar that for years I wouldn't enter after dark.  Its walls are made of giant stones, held together with crumbling mortar.  The roof makes me feel like I'm standing under a tree, truly under it, under the ground, under its trunk.  So above my head the roof/roots are a tangle of pipes, cords and cobwebs, signs of all the changes its gone through in its 150+ years.  But for all that, it is dry and has the much touted benefits of a cellar: cool in the summer, cool in the winter.  Which brings me to why I'm taking you on this tour of my home's underbelly.  This last week I went down to do the laundry and the detergent was nearly frozen.  Not chunks of ice, but thick and sluggish like refrigerated maple syrup.  If my usually temperate cellar had gotten that cold, then outside must really be cold.

I expect winter to be cold, and snowy, and gray.  That's winter.  But when parts of the country are getting blasted by weeks of sub zero temperatures, it can mess with your sense of what does and what doesn't count as cold.  Is 14 cold?  My fingers and nose say yes, but maybe I'm just being lazy when I see 14 degrees and decide not to go for a walk.  5 degrees?  Yes, there's no reason to expose yourself if you don't need to, but 18?  The other day 20 with sunshine felt balmy.  All of these thoughts are going through my mind as I look over my activity for the month of January.

Distance walked (when I remembered to wear pedometer) 12.66 miles

Time spent exercising (walking, yoga, shoveling, yard work) 11 hours and 15 minutes 

I started the month strong and then slipped into curling up under blankets instead.  The nearly frozen detergent tells me undeniably that yes, it has been cold, but could I have fit in more exercise?  Oh yes.  A fellow I was talking to at Starbucks the other day said he and his wife have moved their morning walk indoors to the mall for the winter.  "It's always open, but they're happier to see you after 6" he explained.  I may just have to take advantage of that next month. 

11 hours and 15 minutes = 675 minutes of activity

Divide 675 by 31 and you get 21 minutes per day.  Hmmmm

(I'm imagining pressing the mute button on the critiquing voices in my head)

21 minutes of activity per day.  Well, it's a start.

Time to start filling up February's calendar.

Success Momentum

"Success momentum"  Isn't that a great term?  When I first heard it I instantly knew what it meant and just as completly recognized the truth of it.  Success does build momentum: emotionally, monetarily, you name it.  This idea is at the heart of what B.J. Fogg and the Stanford Persuassive Technology Lab have to say about changing habits.  First, don't talk to him about "breaking habits".  That implies that a habit is one set of behaviors that will power alone can destroy.  Fogg talks about "untangling habits" and replacing them new positive ones.  This involves designating a trigger to do the new behavior and then keeping the new habit incredibly small and easy.  The third step is celebrating these tiny sucesses, thereby creating momentum.  If you'd like to hear Fogg explain this himself (and how tech companies use these ideas to change your behavior) you can listen to an interview on WGBH's Innvoation Hub.    Fogg also has a funny, quick slideshow on creating new habits.

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I've been thinking about untangling habits and creating more healthy ones lately, no great surprise since it's national resolution season.  I thought I would go back through my blog posts and see what I've tried in the past to change my habits.

  • July 2010 - Replaced resolutions with "wannas"
  • Dec. 2011 - using to track my walking habits
  • Jan. 2012 - Set out to finish my canvas of all Lexington Conservation Land
  • July 2012 - Joining walk related groups
  • Feb. 2013 - Choosing the pedometer that works best for me

It was nice to see that I hadn't tried anything that would count as a fad.  I was surprised to see that I never talked about  I started using this website a couple years ago because it had all the helpful features of gmap, but without the bugs of a system created by one person in his spare time.  MapMyWalk's basic version is free.  You can track your calorie intake, the weather and half a dozen other things, but I've used it to make note of my exercise, whether that's walking, yoga or even raking.  Yes, the website has a drop down menu with all sorts of exercise options.  You choose the exercise and the duration and it calculates your estimated calorie usage depending on your weight and height.  You can then look back on your workouts using a number of filters depending on whether you care about your distance, duration, calories etc. 

Desk 112913

I like the feeling of typing in my exercise.  It's like giving myself a high-five.  I also like that if I forget my iPod/pedometer, the website has a map feature that lets me easily calculate how far I travelled.  The website also sends me weekly workout summaries (which I tend to ignore) and then a final end of year one.  Here's what my year end summary says:

  • Workouts 158
  • Routes mapped using website 10
  • Miles 299.1
  • Hours 178.4
  • Calories burned 68,024

OK. Now what? The number of workouts tells me that there are way too many days where I'm not getting any sustained exercise.  My walks equal out to less than a mile of walking per day!  That's disturbing.  I need to revise my life so I encourage myself to exercise more.  

 I know that I like writing down (recognizing) when I exercise. I also know that it's easy to convince myself I've exercised more than I have.  So, I'm going to try a visual approach.  I'm going to use one of those ubiquitous free calendars you receive in the mail at this time of year, and track my healthy habits there.  That way the information is right in front of me (no hiding from it by not visiting a website).  I'll let you know how it goes. 

The Walk n' Talk

The West Wing TV show was well known for many things: complex story lines, an incredible ensemble cast, really fast dialogue and the walk n' talk (scenes where a conversation happens as two characters walk through the halls of the White House).   The creators created this as a way to keep up the energy of the show, even when characters had to pass a lot of information along to the audience.  It worked.

I recently heard a TED talk on the walk n' talk, only this time the goal wasn't audience attention (though it's a lot harder to play Angry Birds while walking than sitting in a meeting), the goal was health.  It's a really short talk, just a few minutes, but it's a big idea. 


While you're at it, here's a PSA on the health benefits of walking, in which the cast of the West Wing spoofs their famous walk n' talk scenes.

Life on the Pedometer

I walked a little over an eighth of a mile while at church today, and a quarter mile while shopping at the grocery store.  This second fact probably says less about the size of the store, than it does about my ability to find the items I was looking for.  Farro.  Is it a grain?  A legume? 

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Back in November when the darkness really took over the day, I started to suspect I wasn't walking as much as I thought I was.  I have a job that has me on the go most of the day, but it's in fits and starts, not prolonged activity.  To get a more accurate picture of how much exercise I was (or wasn't) getting, I decided to wear a pedometer for a few days. 

I very quickly realized that pedometers must have been designed by and for men.  Unless you are wearing a belt, the usual clip style pedometer is not going to stay on.  Add a winter coat and you'll double your exercise - bending over every few steps to pick the pedometer off the ground.  I have the  Walking Advantage 340 by Sportline, which allows you to set your stride and decide if you prefer to measure the distance covered or the steps you've taken.  These are nice options, but the 1" clip was not enough to keep it attached to the top of my jeans. I wondered if a more expensive model would be better designed, but paying more to get the same information felt ridiculous, so I went the other direction.

I tried the free pedometer I received from my health insurance company. This one comes with the usual clip on the back, but it also has a leash which I hooked around my belt loop.  On the plus side, the pedometer stayed on.  On the downside, it made an audible click with every step I took.  I doubt anyone passing me on the sidewalk would have heard it, but it drove me crazy. 

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The day after Thanksgiving, I was out on a walk with a local MeetUp group and the conversation turned to walking resolutions.  Not surprisingly, this came right after long discussions of what we'd eaten the day before.  When I asked if anyone could recommend a good pedometer, I got two enthusiastic replies.  The first was for a pedometer put out by Weight Watchers that attaches to your bra strap.  This eliminates the falling off problem, and makes it possible to wear the pedometer while swimming (something I'd never considered).  Though you do need to be careful which strap you put it on.  The woman who owned it said she was racking up great numbers one week, but didn't think she'd been doing that much exercise.  The more she thought about it, she realized she'd actually been in her car more than usual that week.  Then it hit her.  She was getting credit for each time she shifted!

The other recommendation was for the Nike+ system on the iPod nano.  She had my attention; I own a nano and use it almost every time I'm out for a walk. I'd seen the Nike emblem on the menu, but had figured it was some sort of tie in with their shoes, so I'd never investigated it before. 

One of the things I love about my tiny (and therefor oh so often misplaced) nano, is that it has a tight clip, the size of the device itself on the back.  This means I can attach it to the neck of my shirt in summer, the zipper of my heaviest coat in winter, even inside my shirt in case of rain. 

Could the pedometer be accurate if I could place it practically anywhere?  I clipped my traditional pedometer to my jeans, my nano to my coat and I set out for a walk.  The nano never fell off, the pedometer fell repeatedly.  At the end of the walk I compared the results.  Both told me how many steps I'd taken and the distance I'd travelled in miles.  The nano did say that I'd walked two hundredths of a mile more than the pedometer did.  The pedometer had been calibrated to my stride, so I'm confident it was the more accurate number, but for me the convenience of the nano was well worth a slight dip in accuracy.  I admit it didn't hurt that the inaccuracy was in my favor.  In addition, the nano kept track of how long I'd been walking and saved my walk history.   This was perfect for me. 

I'd be interested to hear what sort of pedometer you use and what you like/dislike about it.  Please leave a comment with your opinion.




The Saftey Question

I was out with some friends this evening and the conversation drifted to the decrease in light and what that has done to our exercise routine (or efforts at establishing one).  One woman who likes to go out walking first thing, had shifted her walk a bit later in the morning.  Another who goes for a morning run, was considering moving that run indoors for the sake of safety until the clocks shift. 


That word, "safety" sparked a lively discussion, including talk of reported attacks at several popular local trails.  A couple people said they never went on those trails any more.  All of this was a surprise to me.  I frequent those trails and hadn't heard a thing.  

"How many attacks have there been?" I asked.  

"What time of day have they happened?" asked another friend. 

But the details, if they ever were known, had been forgotten.  I got the impression that the incidents had happened some time ago, and were unrelated. I admit I felt smug.  I believe in taking reasonable precautions, but refusing to use a beautiful resource because someone was endangered there once, a year or more ago, just isn't reasonable.  I knew I wouldn't be changing my habits.

"Of course I never wear headphones when I'm walking."  My eyes widened as everyone at the table nodded their heads knowingly.   

"I'd be terrified if I couldn't hear everything around me."

"The police are always talking about it." 

"It'd be like putting a target on my back." 

Pop!  Whatever smugness I'd felt was gone.  I always wear headphones when walking.  I keep the volume low to make sure I can hear approaching traffic, but there have certainly been times when I've lost track of my surroundings while listening to an interesting interview or story.  From my friends' tone, there was no doubt they counted headphones while exercising outside, right up there with texting while driving, utterly stupid.

Everything they went on to say was quite convincing, and yet I kept looking for a loop hole, some way to prove that the way I use my headphones doesn't count.  One of the things that gets me out the door on a walk is the anticipation of the shows I'll listen to while I'm on it (see the sidebar for my favorites).  My ipod is such a part of my walking, that when my partner surprised me with a new one to replace the cracked and malfunctioning one I'd been using, he had "Ever Onward" engraved on the back. 

I have gone for walks solo, without something in my ears, but the urge to stop early is very strong.  The To Do lists and shoulds in my head are much harder to drown out when I have the sound of cars and lawn mowers for company.  Part of me says that I should seek out places with more nature sounds, so I can get used to walking solo.  While another part says, if listening to NPR on my headphones counts as dangerous behavior, maybe I need more danger in my life. 


Where do you stand on the headphone debate?  Feel free to leave a comment.

Susan G. Komen Boston 3-Day

Of all the walks that take place each year to raise money, I suspect the Komen 3-Day to fight Breast Cancer may be the best known.  They do a terrific job getting out the message that walkers come away not only feeling good about helping raise money, but stronger emotionally and physically.  Their ads are ubiquitous.  

So I'm surprised that I had no idea this year's walk was going to go right down the main street of my town!  The night before, I walked into town for some frozen yogurt (we now have 3 sources of the stuff within a 2 block area; it's crazy) and saw big white signs with black arrows stapled to posts.  I was reading The Night Circus at the time.  The black and white color scheme with the mysterious nature of the signs made me hope, just for a heart beat, that someone had brought the circus to life.  A moment later I knew it was a ridiculous idea, but clearly something was up.  By the time I got home, I'd forgotten all about it.

The next day when I went to the post office, downtown was coated in pink.  There were balloons, banners, inflatable sticks (still a bit confused by those) and people dressed in every conceivable  shade.  It was a 4 year old girl's dream!

For such a big event, with so many people gathered on the side of the road to cheer and offer refreshments, I didn't see a single sign with the event name on it.  I finally asked this fellow, figuring he must be in the know.  

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I wasn't going out on much of a limb with that assumption.  He explained it was the second day of the walk, and he was there to cheer on his 70+ year old wife!  He was far from alone.  There were people in lawn chairs, clearly planning to encourage every last straggler.  And the walkers looked excited.  This was near the end of their longest day, and they were smiling, clapping, wearing funny headdresses and sparkly beads.  It truly was an impressive sight to see so many people cheerfully exerting themselves to help others. 

So if you're ever out walking or driving and find yourself surrounded by pink - honk your horn, clap like you mean it, and smile as the best of human nature surrounds you. 

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